The effects of poverty on the oppression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China
More than 40 different ethnic groups live within China’s Northwest region, known as Xinjiang. The two largest ethnic groups are the Han Chinese and Uyghur Muslims. The two groups do not speak the same language, nor do they share similar traditions. This creates a divide that widens due to the socio-economic disparity between the two factions. The Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, through exploitation and other human rights violations, further exacerbated the issue. Unfortunately, fear of the Uyghurs has given the Chinese government a justification to detain and exploit millions.

The Issue of Poverty

The poverty in Xinjiang is most prevalent of any Chinese province at approximately 6%. However, certain regions suffer more than others. For example, Yutian County has a poverty rate of around 25%. Yet, the region has made great strides forward in poverty alleviation during recent years. In fact, more than 2.3 million people escaped poverty between 2014 and 2018. Xinjiang’s resource-rich areas have caught the attention of the Han Chinese. This, in turn, drives migration and economic growth. Additionally, the government has promoted various industries, employment transfers and citizen relocation, further driving down poverty rates.

Despite this, many Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang suffer exclusion from these benefits. Most prominently, employment discrimination prevents Uyghurs from obtaining jobs in these rising markets. As a result, a disproportionate amount of Han Chinese receives better jobs, furthering the economic disparity between the two groups. Furthermore, the rising number of Han Chinese in the region (currently at 40% of the population) has made the native Uyghurs feel distant from one another. The Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang fear the loss of their culture.

Conflict

Due to the exclusion and poverty that the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang experience, they tend to move closer to Islam. Some even go so far as to commit acts of violence. Regardless of the real reasons for the violence, many Han Chinese believe it is Islamic extremists causing violence. The Han Chinese believe this contributes to instability within the region as the Uyghur’s are fighting for independence. This, in turn, leads to widespread fear and distrust among the population.

The Chinese government responded to these acts of violence by claiming that Islamic extremists caused it. Therefore, the government must “reeducate” the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Since 2014, China has suppressed the Uyghurs’ culture, language and religion in the name of national security, while claiming that the Uyghurs have full freedom. Police stations now occupy every few blocks and cameras are on every street. Some public areas are inaccessible and many people are stopped on the street for identification. Notably, many Uyghurs have had their passports taken and can no longer leave the region.

Crackdown

Since 2017, the government has been detaining approximately 1 million Uyghurs in reeducation camps, with their only crimes being that they are Muslim. Hundreds of camps are present today with 39, having tripled in size from 2017 to 2018. Construction spending has increased drastically by nearly $3 billion in recent years.

Information on exact conditions in the camps is difficult to discern. However, previous detainees speak of a prison-like environment, sexual assault, forced abortions or contraceptives, extreme surveillance and torture. Some say they witnessed people taking their own lives.

Additionally, many Uyghurs in these camps must work in factories across China. They experience exploitation, completely against their will. The products they produce are widespread. Approximately 83 international companies use this forced labor in their supply chain. Moreover, 20% of cotton products around the world came from this forced labor.

Policy, Legislation and Coalition of Aid

Many U.S. companies benefit from this system. Legislation must pass to prevent forced labor and condemn China’s actions. Most recently, the Senate passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (S3744) in June 2020. It placed sanctions on many officials responsible or complicit in the detainment and abuse of the Uyghurs.

Particularly, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act emerged in March 2020 but has not passed into law yet. Additionally, many Uyghurs are stuck in U.S. immigration limbo, complicating their ability to seek refuge. Both proposals are crucial in helping significantly reduce the demand for forced labor. Further, people are urging the Chinese government to stop committing human rights abuses.

Many NGOs are working to bring attention to the crisis, as well as aiding the affected Uyghurs. Despite difficulties in offering direct aid, there exists a coalition of more than 250 organizations part of the End Uyghur Forced Labor campaign. The coalition demands companies eliminate any Uyghur forced labor within their production lines, within one year. Companies that agree must sign a pledge — applying pressure to all companies that have not yet signed. Also, the coalition organized advocacy days, began petitions and called on Congress to ban cotton from the Uyghur region. This additional pressure on companies will help end Uyghur forced labor. Hopefully, it will reduce demand for Uyghur labor and prevent their exploitation as well.

Hope Remains

Poverty in Xinjiang has reduced significantly. It will likely continue to decrease in the upcoming years. Additionally, numerous countries have applied pressure on the Chinese government. It is crucial that the U.S. does the same. Many NGOs have worked to raise awareness and apply pressure on governments and companies to eliminate Uyghur forced labor. Despite the many challenges that the Uyghurs have faced, hope remains for conditions to improve, with the support of the global community.

Elizabeth Lee
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s biggest oil supplies and is also home to the holy Mecca. However, Saudi Arabia also has one of the most oppressive regimes, comparatively speaking. Women’s rights in Saudia Arabia are close to being non-existent. Although women in Saudia Arabia have been granted certain basic rights, there is a long way to go. Here is a history of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Early History

Saudi Arabia is a predominately Islamic nation and the law system follows Sharia law. Ever since the Iranian Revolution, laws against women in Saudi Arabia have been stricter. In the early 50’s, Saudi Arabia finally opened a school that focused exclusively on girls. Then, 20 years later, women in Saudi Arabia could attend college as well.

It would not be until three decades later that women would see more changes in Saudi laws. When women received personal licenses, their ownership of such licenses was not as it is in European or American nations, for example. Women’s guardians received the identification cards on behalf of the woman. In the following years, Sharia law and government played a key role in the development of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. These structures forced women into marriage, domestic abuse was a wide-spread issue and basic human rights eroded, year after year. Women started to see a change in the 2000s and 2010s with the enrollment of females elected into the government. Furthermore, women could vote in 2015 and the driving ban ceased in 2018.

Women’s Rights Since 2018

Women in Saudi Arabia do not have certain freedoms that may seem trivial to most women around the world. In 2019, it became legal to allow women to obtain passports or to travel without the permission of a male guardian. Though these reforms do not completely solve the oppression women face, they are a step in the right direction. These reforms allow a sense of freedom to women.

Saudi Arabia is gradually moving closer to removing its “guardianship system” that subjects women’s rights to their male relatives. A new regulation includes the right for a women’s hiring without the need for a male guardian’s permission. Notably, the law is intended to target and ban employment discrimination laws.

One of the biggest changes for women in Saudi Arabia is allowing women to be able to register their children’s births. Previously, a male guardian or the father of the child did this act. Human rights changes such as these in Sharia law allow for women to be looked at as equal and as “heads of the household”.

Celebrating the Victories But Eyeing the Future

These regulations are a positive step towards empowering women and providing them with more opportunities for leadership roles. Much progress remains, in terms of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia as the women lack many pivotal rights and liberties afforded to men. However, progress deserves celebration and these new regulations have given women freedoms they previously did not enjoy.

– Hena Pejdah
Photo: UN Multimedia

Hunger in Myanmar
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a nation with a diverse population of approximately 53 million people of at least 135 different ethnic groups. While it is the second-largest country in Southeast Asia, Myanmar remains one of the least developed nations in the world.

Progress in the fight against hunger in Myanmar

The country of Myanmar has made significant progress in the fight against hunger in the past few decades. The rate of under-five overweight children fell from 2.6% in 2009 to 1.5% in 2016. Myanmar’s low birth-weight prevalence also decreased slightly from 13.9% in 2000 to 12.3% in 2015.

The proportion of undernourished people in the population also declined remarkably. In 2019, around 1 in 10 Burmese were undernourished, which shows significant progress compared to 2000 where almost half of the population was undernourished.

Myanmar is also performing well among developing countries in reducing wasting in children. Wasting in children means having a low weight for height ratio, which is a strong predictor of under-five child mortality. Compared to the average developing country rate at 8.9%, Myanmar’s national under-five wasting prevalence stood at 6.6%.

Despite these achievements, more than a third of Myanmar’s population who live in poverty spend a significant amount of their limited income on food, and they are still struggling with malnutrition.

Malnutrition burden

Malnutrition among the under-five population is a serious factor when it comes to the state of hunger in Myanmar, as it hinders the children’s growth and development. This issue also exposes these children to various illnesses.

Approximately 29.4% of the children under five were stunted in 2016. While this percentage is indeed an improvement from the national prevalence of 35.1% in 2009, it is still significantly high when compared to an average of 25% in other developing countries. In some states or regions, the prevalence could be upwards of 41%, indicating that 4 in 10 children will not be able to reach their full potential in life.

Malnutrition also disproportionately affects children from the poorest households. While the rate of stunting in children from the wealthiest group is 16%, the rate is more than doubled for the poorest group of children, with 38% of them stunted.

Malnutrition due to poor diets not only negatively affects the children, but is also a great burden to the adult population in Myanmar. A staggering 46.3% of women of reproductive age have anemia, while 7.9% of adult women and 6.9% of adult men are diabetic. Meanwhile, 4% of men and 7.3% of women are obese, leaving them at risk of different cardiovascular diseases and other serious health consequences.

Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya people are among those who are the most at risk of poverty and hunger in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddist nation. The Rohingya population, a large majority of whom are Muslims, has long been experiencing discrimination, restrictions from basic services and denial of citizenship by local authorities despite condemnation from the international community.

In 2017, after attacks from the Rohingya insurgents killed several members of Myanmar security forces, the Myanmar military ferociously retaliated by massacring and destroying villages in the western Rakhine state. This forced nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. After the army crackdown, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that more than 80,000 children under 5 years old living in parts of western Myanmar were wasting and may need treatment for malnutrition.

Withholding food supply or forced starvation are other strategies being used against the Rohingya Muslims to drive them away from their homes. The Rohingya refugees interviewed by Amnesty International reported that soldiers blocked them from accessing rice paddies and other food resources, stole their harvests, and gave their food and livestock to non-Rohingya neighbors. Sometimes they would have to go for several days without food.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have been displaced due to violence in previous years must live in makeshift shelters with appalling living conditions and under direct threat of dangers caused by monsoon rains. Surveys show that 38% of children living in these camps are stunted, and at least 12% are suffering from severe malnutrition.

Assistance from the international community

High exposure to natural disasters, armed conflicts or inter-communal clashes are just some of the numerous challenges that Myanmar faces. These factors combined leave a large proportion of Myanmar’s population suffering from poverty and hunger. It is estimated that nearly 1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Since 1994, Action Against Hunger has worked to fight hunger in Myanmar by improving nutrition, food security, water quality, sanitation and hygiene in vulnerable communities where ethnic minorities reside. In 2018, the organization’s nutrition and health programs reached 26,751 people. Another 19,461 people benefited from the water, sanitation, and hygiene programs, while 23,790 people were helped by the food security and livelihood programs. In just 2018 alone, Action Against Hunger has reached 76,312 in vulnerable communities across Myanmar.

The organization also works to respond to the urgent needs of the displaced Rohingya people who fled from violence in Myanmar. In just one year, Action Against Hunger has helped more than 700,000 displaced people with food security and livelihoods, mental support and care practices, water quality and access, and hygiene and sanitation.

 

Despite the challenges, Myanmar has achieved the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger and reached the status of a lower-middle-income country in the past decades. Many organizations are working hard alongside the government to alleviate poverty and hunger in Myanmar. However, with the conflicts between Myanmar’s authorities and the Rohingya Muslims remains ongoing inside the nation, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

China's Human Rights Violations
The Chinese government is committing atrocities and human rights violations against the Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, a northwestern province of China. Chinese authorities detained at least 800,000 and up to 2 million Muslims since 2017; mainly Uyghurs, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group, along with other ethnic Muslim minorities.

China’s Motives

Riots broke out in Xinjiang in 2009 due to Uyghur mass protests against cultural and economic discrimination and state-incentivized migration of Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in China. Since then, the Chinese government worries that Uyghurs hold separatist, religious extremist ideas. Therefore, it justifies its repressive actions as necessary measures in response to threats of terrorism.

Chinese officials launched a Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Extremism in 2014 in Xinjiang, but the repression escalated significantly when Chen Quanguo, the communist party secretary, became the leader of Xinjiang in 2016. Prior to this, Chen Quanguo ruled Tibet from 2011 to 2016, where he implemented a dual strategy to restore and secure national security and social stability. He used aggressive policies to reduce ethnic differences and assimilate Tibetans to Han Chinese, such as re-education programs and intermarriage initiatives. Aside from these ethnic policies, Chen established dense security systems to reinforce this cultural transformation, including militarized surveillance systems. After ruling Tibet, people got to know Chen for restoring stability through the enforcement of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule and for his innovative ethnic policies, which he expanded in Xinjiang, targeting the Uyghur population.

Xinjiang is of particular strategic and economic importance for Beijing as it has the country’s largest natural gas and coal reserves with 40 percent of the national total. Xinjiang is a key area for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive global trade project, as it connects China to the rest of Asia and Europe. Therefore, Beijing may be repressing the Uyghur in Xinjiang for economic reasons to protect its Belt and Road Initiative project in which China invested between $1 to 8 trillion.

China’s Human Rights Violations and Abuses

The autonomous region of Xinjiang changed its legislation to allow local governments to set up re-education camps to intern Muslims, where they must renounce aspects of their religion, learn Mandarin Chinese and praise the CCP, in order to combat extremism. As stated by the Chinese Communist Youth League in March 2017, “the training has only one purpose: to eradicate from the mind thoughts about religious extremism and violent terrorism, and to cure ideological diseases.”

Former detainees reported the use of stress positions, beatings, sleep and food deprivation by authorities, as well as the mistreatment and torture in some mass internment facilities as punishment for resisting or failing to learn the lessons taught.

The 11 million Uyghur living in Xinjiang outside of the camps also endure the tightening repressive policies of Chinese authorities who subject people to pervasive surveillance. Authorities use cutting-edge technology including artificial intelligence, big data and phone spyware. The CCP leader Chen Quanguo installed a grid-management system in Xinjiang, which divides the cities into squares of 500 people. A police station monitors each square that is in charge of regularly checking IDs, fingerprints and searching phones.

Global Response to China’s Human Rights Violations

The E.U. issued a statement in 2018 demanding China to respect the freedom of religion and the rights of minorities, as well as change its policies in Xinjiang. In July 2019, over 20 countries collectively signed a letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemning China’s human rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The letter urges China to allow U.N. experts access to the camps. However, no Muslim-majority country co-signed the joint statement. Instead, Saudi Arabia alongside 36 other countries signed their own letter in which they praised China’s achievements and argue that “human rights are respected and protected in China in the process of counter-terrorism and deradicalization.”

Most human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations also condemned China’s detention of Uyghurs. This was demonstrated in a joint letter that a coalition of five human rights organizations (including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and more) issued to the U.N. Secretary-General, urging the U.N. to take action.

On October 7, 2019, the U.S. blacklisted 28 Chinese organizations, both government agencies and top surveillance companies. This marked the U.S.’s first concrete action in response to China’s human rights violations against Uyghurs, along with the imposed visa restrictions on the Chinese government and communist party officials.

Conclusion

China still dismisses all allegations of human rights violations and uses its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council to block human rights issues discussions. Immediate investigations on China’s human rights violations against Uyghurs must transpire and the U.N. should access detention camps. The situation in Xinjiang conveys the level of vulnerability ethnic minorities face, and the urgency for the international community to take concrete action.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Flickr

Rohingya Muslims in MyanmarAs the world has begun to pay more attention to the refugee crisis concerning Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the problem with State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s response—or lack thereof—has come under scrutiny.

The refugee crisis only illuminates the persecution of Rohingya that has been going on for decades. The U.N. reported that government troops in Myanmar have committed crimes against the minority Muslim population—such as murder, rape and arson—that have made living in their home country impossible.

Furthermore, the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have been denied citizenship since 1982, and are not considered to be one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups.

While the military in the country denies such allegations, thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar, hoping to find an escape from the brutality that has taken over their lives. Most Rohingya flee to neighboring countries, but the brutality against the refugees has not stopped, only transitioned from one predator to another. Aljazeera reports that the head of the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM) is “concerned” about the violence taking place in Bangladesh against the minority Muslim population, and has every right to be.

The violence is reported to be sexual in nature and gender-targeted, which only solidifies the concerns held by world leaders that Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi is not going to openly oppose the violence being carried out by citizens of her country against the Rohingya. In fact, the State Chancellor has refused to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing for quite some time.

Human rights groups and the U.N. have called on the State Chancellor to take action and stop the senseless murder of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Unfortunately, the politics of the situation are more complicated than it may seem.

The BBC reports that under Myanmar’s constitution, the military is a very powerful entity that prevents Myanmar from taking steps towards democracy. Despite calls by international leaders and human rights groups for Aung San Suu Kyi to denounce the violence, it is ultimately the military’s stronghold over the government that has prevented her from speaking out.

Still, many believe that the State Chancellor should be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize that she was awarded in 1991.

Finally, after an unusual period of silence, the State Chancellor addressed the violence. Amid the confusion and horror that has become everyday life for the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has stated the Rohingya will be allowed to return to their home country.

The road home is seemingly far-off—a result of the military’s targeted violence towards their homes, crops and other resources essential for the Rohingya’s survival in Myanmar. However, many in the international community believe the recent attention drawn to the ethnic cleansing will have a positive effect and save the lives of those who need help.

For this reason, it is imperative that the world does not forget about the genocide occurring against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The international community must pay attention and provide any support necessary.

Jaxx Artz

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya MuslimsAs a minority group, Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to violence throughout the entirety of their existence. In what is being called “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”, more than 400 Rohingya Muslims were killed in Burma in the month of August 2017.

The extreme violence that Rohingya Muslims have been facing in Burma has caused almost 90,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in search of safety. The violence was reportedly set off by a group of Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts in the Burma state of Rakhine on August 25, 2017.

Rohingya militants are being blamed by Burmese officials for burning homes and killing civilians. However, rights monitors and Rohingya Muslims argue that the Burmese Army is using this claim to force them out of Burma.

Rohingya Muslims living in Burma do not receive full citizenship rights, and they often need to seek official permission to marry or travel outside of their villages.

The violence has prompted responses from various world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who brought the matter before the United Nations General Assembly this month. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also endorsed this call.

Zarif denounced the “global silence on continuing violence against Rohingya Muslims” saying that “international action [is] crucial to prevent further ethnic cleansing—UN must rally” in a post he made on Twitter.

Additionally, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been encouraging Burma to investigate the alleged atrocities against the Muslims of Rohingya.

According to a United Nations spokeswoman, the Rohingya Muslims are “probably the most friendless people in the world” as they have struggled to find safety or permanent civilization in any area of the world.

While the Rohingya Muslims are facing violence, rape and injustice carried out by the Burmese army, their attempts to flee Burma are often met with more violence and brutality by human traffickers and coast guards of other nations.

This month, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan filed a report that urged the Burmese government to restore citizenship rights, which were stripped in 1982, to the Muslims of Rohingya.

Although conditions seem nearly hopeless for Rohingya Muslims living in Burma, world leaders are working together to support this minority group. Help for Muslims of Rohingya is on the way, although it is in question whether it will arrive on time.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

Banning Bull Slaughter Makes Vulnerable Populations Poorer
Earlier this year, the government of Maharashtra, India, decided to ban bullock and bull slaughter. The slaughtering of cows, which are considered to be sacred in Hinduism, had already been prohibited since 1976. This new law has faced opposition from many sectors of society that claim it destroys businesses, makes farmers’ livelihoods more vulnerable, and hurts the very animals it hopes to protect.

Another argument against the law is that is promotes Hindu extremist interests over the nation’s secular principles. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the force behind the new law, argues instead that it protects religious beliefs. However, even one of the BJP’s strongest allies, the Republican Party of India (RPI), has expressed discontent with the law.

Farmers from the state have protested that banning bull slaughter means they can no longer sell their old animals that have outlived their usefulness. Many farmers count on the money made from the sale to pay back loans. In India, where huge numbers of farmer suicides have been a pressing concern, the new law has made farmers’ limited sources of income more precarious.

Some people have even argued that the law will lead to farmers simply abandoning their cattle because they cannot afford to look after them. They will be left on the streets to starve and die, or be smuggled in terrible conditions to Bangladesh, where they will be slaughtered. The very purpose of the law—to protect bulls—would be left unfulfilled.

The law has also eliminated the only type of meat poor people can afford. In India, beef is commonly called the “poor mans’ protein,” as it is much cheaper than mutton or chicken. Buffalo meat, while still legal, is predicted to become more expensive because of a lack of alternatives. In a country where more than half of children under five are malnourished, this ban is feared to increase rates of starvation and sickness.

Specific castes have also been negatively affected. The Qureshis, a Muslim community that has been synonymous with bull slaughter for generations, can no longer practice the only livelihood they know.

The Dharavi leather market has also lost its bearings. Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in Asia, obtained much of its income from its once-thriving leather industry, where workers would make wallets, belts, jackets and handbags. Now, hundreds of workers have been left jobless.

Sources: The Hindu 1, The Hindu 2, The Hindu 3, Times of India, The Independent, Al Jazeera, New York Times 1, New York Times 2
Photo: Stock Photos

boko haram
Nigeria’s militant Islamic group, Boko Haram, has created havoc in Africa’s most populous country. The militia, whose name translates to “Western education is sin,” has kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in the village of Chibok and has threatened to sell them as child brides. Their primary objective is to create an Islamic state that would forbid Muslims to abide by or be influenced by Western culture. Thus, schools have served as a common battlefield. Additionally, battles have occurred in churches, police stations and all those opposed to the ideas of the militants. Without a proper education, these girls will continue to suffer the consequences of extreme poverty and related health risks.

Similarly in Afghanistan, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on women during their rule from the late 1990s to 2001. They banned women from studying in schools, working outside the homes and took away most of their behavioral and personal freedom due to an extreme interpretation of the Koran. Women were pressured into adhering to their traditional roles, being forced to stay at home to take care of the children and the house. The Taliban also was opposed to Western influence, and it banned music, movies, cosmetics and brightly colored clothing, creating laws to punish those who did not wear the proper clothing, such as the burqa, for women.

In both situations, women’s rights have been and still are on the road to being taken away. Boko Haram has been accused of having communications with and training from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic Maghreb. This is also true for the Taliban, who have had immense support and imported fighters from Al-Qaeda. Both groups want to see a change in government and have Shari’a law implemented in their respective countries.

In a divided country of Christians and Muslims, Nigeria has faced many problems, despite the abundance of oil and natural resources that exist in the country. The militia mainly blames the modern and secular government for bad governance and underdevelopment. In Afghanistan, the Taliban rose after the invasion of the Soviet Union to bring back stability into the country and instill rule of law in place of corruption. The strict restrictions on women were an effect of Shari’a law.

Without education for women, the countries’ development will be hindered and the population’s health will dramatically decrease. Afghanistan already has one of the lowest Human Development Indexes in the world and suffers from a complete lack of healthcare providers and facilities. Unfortunately, both Afghanistan and Nigeria face severe challenges and a future that does not seem as bright as it could be.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: CNN, CFR 1, CFR 2
Photo: Flickr

naming_the_islamic_state
ISIS has been the name many of us have come to use over the summer as this terrorist group has come to prominence. The group is also referred to as IS or ISIL, by many government leaders.

But why discuss it at all?  Should it matter what an extremist group calls itself? Shouldn’t people be focusing on what means they are using to achieve their ends?

According to Jonah Blank, a former staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the militant organization is waging a propaganda war—and what name it goes by is part of that war.”

This group seeks to reestablish a caliphate, a mecca for Sunni Muslims all over the world run by a supreme religious and political leader. The calphi are older societies, the last of which died out with the Ottoman Empire. They are seen as the Golden Age of Islam. Muslims were at the cutting edge of art and technology. They also controlled vast amounts of political and economic power at this time.

The current attempt of reestablishment has taken place in western Iraq, eastern Syria, parts of Jordan and Turkey. This location has caused the name ISIS to become the front runner. It stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the “Syria” they refer to is Greater Syria. Greater Syria is referred to by many as al-Sham in Arabic.

Al-Sham “is the classical Arabic term for Damascus and its hinterlands, and over time, it came to denote the area between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, south of the Taurus Mountains and north of Arabian desert.”

The Obama Administration has translated the al-Sham differently to mean “the Levant” hence the president’s use of ISIL. It doesn’t have the lengthy explanation of greater Syria, but, more importantly, it also weakens the credibility of the terrorist group in a time when they are trying to recruit supporters.

As The New York Times explains again, the term Levant is “a once-common term that now has something of an antique whiff about it, like ‘the Orient.’ Many Arab nationalists and Islamist radicals disdain it.”

It seems that the President’s administration has come to agree with Jonah Blank. He looks to discredit them openly, causing confusion in the Middle East. This confusion seems to be taking effect.  Many Muslims have already turned their back on the idea of a caliphate, as many have well an established mufti, who is the highest legal authority, giving rulings on practice for the state.

Its name is become confusing, and ISIL cannot seem to decide what to call itself. Islamic scholar Juan Cole says ISISL has no real support beyond their own followers and has no real prospect of gaining the respect of the greater Sunni Muslim community. It seems that its fall might come from internal factors that the U.S. can observe and comment on from afar.

– Frederick Wood II

Sources: NPR 1, NPR 2, NPR 3, New York Times, Juan Cole
Photo: The Christian Post

muslims-in-myanmar
In the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, displaced Rohingya Muslims face a severe health crisis as malnutrition spreads, and treatable illnesses and injuries go unattended.

The country’s recent history of ethnic tension has disfavored the minority Muslims, pushing them to regions along coastal Myanmar where many of the displaced are settled in refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has caught the attention of international aid organizations that set up medical centers and ration distribution facilities.

However, medical aid to the ostracized group was all but completely cut off by government officials who accused Medicins Sans Frontieres-Holland (Doctors Without Borders-Holland) of favoritism to Muslims in Myanmar, promoting anti-government sentiment, and ordered them to leave in February of 2014.

As a result of the expulsion, the 700,000 people that depended on MSF’s service were left without proper medical care. By late July, when the government declared that MSF could return, the Rohingya had already endured months of a bleak health crisis with no help to turn to.

In a Reuters report from one of the camps, Aisyah Begum told the story of her husband who was injured while working in the forest. The man would have been taken to the nearby MSF clinic had it been open. The couple was left with no other option but to drive two hours to the nearest private doctor in Maungdaw who then refused to help. The man eventually passed away from what was most likely a treatable infection.

Around the time MSF was granted permission to return, the United Nations publicly commented on the refugee camps’ inhumane conditions. Yanghee Lee of the UN human rights envoy for Myanmar released a 10 page report, calling the living situation of the camps’ inhabitants “deplorable,” noting concern that “the government’s plan for peaceful co-existence may likely result in a permanent segregation” of the two groups.

Ethnic tensions between the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the dominant Rakhine Buddhists spans back a few years. It erupted in 2012, leaving 200 dead and an estimated 140,000 internally displaced – 135,000 of which were Rohingya. The clash between the ethnic groups left the bitter taste of mistrust in the mouths of both sides, with one side much more disadvantaged than the other.

The Rohingya suffer from continued apathy and exclusion on part of the Rakhine, and face the threat of violent attacks if they cross the wrong person, keeping them isolated in their lacking communities. They essentially live as prisoners, eating only donated rice and chickpeas, fishing their protein from the nearby ocean.

Ethnic persecution is systemic in Myanmar, to the point where those in the minority group are not even recognized as citizens by the government. They are classified as illegal Bengali immigrants and therefore have no legal rights or representation. They severely lack the means to sustain themselves.

Conditions have reached such a critical point in recent years that tens of thousands have tried fleeing by boat. Human Rights Watch has accused the government of leading an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslims in Myanmar.

“By virtue of their legal status (or lack of), the Muslim community has faced and continues to face systematic discrimination, which includes restrictions in the freedom of movement, restrictions in access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registrations,” said Lee in her report.

Myanmar is a country of 55 million people. In sheer numbers alone, it is clear what the Rohingya are up against as the nation’s abhorred minority. Years of military rule subjected them to hard labor, rape, torture and relocation, extending from a 1982 citizenship law that declared them stateless. However, the increasingly democratic reform of its government brings some hope.

Many Rohingya retain complete skepticism of the future and MSF is “cautiously optimistic” about their invitation to return. However, it appears that the bind of Myanmar’s displaced Muslims may quickly improve with increased international attention and the possibility of greater involvement by the United States.

“We’re working to continually help address problems on the ground,” said Derek Mitchell, the US ambassador to Myanmar. “What we are doing out here is in anticipation of continued reform, although we need to remain patient as the country deals with increasingly difficult issues going forward.”

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Reuters, Helsinki Times, Al Jazeera
Photo: Reuters